The Stranger’s Child and The Aspern Papers
Queering origin stories and questioning the visitable past
in Alan Hollinghurst
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In tracing the afterlife of a fictive WWI poet based on Rupert Brooke across a century, Hollinghurst’s The Stranger’s Child explores both the political power of the archive and its arbitrary and contingent nature. The novel’s depiction of an archival quest owes a debt to Henry James’s The Aspern Papers and his conceit of the “visitable past”. Like Aspern the novel ends with a fire in the archive. The sacred origins of art and nation that biographers and historians seek in the archive are nothing but myths, and the figure for time that the novel favours is ultimately not the Jamesian “visitable past” but the Tennysonian “stranger’s child.” The Stranger’s Child evokes a future inheritor who will neither know nor care what came before, and it thereby resembles contemporary theories of queer temporality that repudiate a reproductive futurism summoned forth in the name of the child.

Alan Hollinghurst

Writing under the influence


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